This fall, I had the privilege of spending time in Lisbon, Portugal, where I attended the 2019 Global Summit of the International Communications Consultancy Organization (ICCO), consisting of top PR firms around the world. The ICCO mission is to work together to raise standards of quality, address ethical issues, harmonize professional PR consultancy practice, and share knowledge. As the Chair of the Canadian Council of Public Relations Firms, I serve on the ICCO Board, bringing our Canadian perspective on public relations and communications to the world.
It was an inspiring few days looking at the present and future of PR. Interestingly, delegates were united in a few thematic pillars that hold great promise for our profession. A few that I want to share include the battle against fake news; the PR talent crisis, equality and mental health in the workplace; and the opportunities for us to play a major role in positive change through brand purpose.
The Battle Against Fake News
For the average consumer, fake news has become fodder for over-referenced memes, but this is a critical issue that involves communications professionals and cuts to the core of the ethics in our business.
There are an estimated 4.3 billion internet users worldwide, 3.4 billion active social media users, and trust and credibility in the news seems to be at an all-time low. While policymakers, media and digital platforms have a responsibility to crack down on how easily fake news is propagated, PR professionals also have a public duty not be complicit in creating or propelling known misinformation and disinformation.
At the ICCO Summit, seasoned marketer and communications coach, Christina Clinton, spoke on this topic. She provided several insightful tips for us to do our part to stifle fake news and steer the narrative towards the truth:
- Fact vs. fiction: Understand nuance versus spin at every opportunity. Base information in facts and connect science to assumptions whenever possible.
- Commit to the truth: When it comes to our role in disseminating the news, don’t settle for anything less. Ask about the certainty of facts and authenticate fact over fiction.
- Make authenticity priority #1: Encourage clients to champion their true, positive values and transparency.
For more of this, I encourage you to check out a recent speech by actor Sasha Baron Cohen, who has long-supported the fight against withholding the truth in news from society, through humour.
The Talent Crisis: Equality and Mental Health in the Workplace
The communications industry is continuously evolving to meet the demands of new technology, trends and consumer behaviours. What remains constant is the growing demand for more experienced communicators. However, while our global public relations industry is predominantly female, it is losing key mid-to-senior female leaders. This is partially because of the difficulty of working full-time in environments that demand on-call client service, at all hours. Combine this with the high stress levels associated with creating and managing 24-hour global news cycles, and you quickly see why agencies are on the perennial search for more talent and the constant need to replace lost talent.
Angela Oakes and Susan Hardwick, Co-founders of Global Women in PR (GWPR), based in London, England, released the first-ever GWPR Annual Index at the ICCO Summit, with participation from 37 countries. It is clear that more needs to be done if we want to retain highly talented communicators. Key findings show that although Public Relations is a female-populated industry (more than two-thirds), 62% of the boardrooms in which PR pros work are still male-dominated. What’s more, it will reportedly now take 202 years (!) to achieve equality in the workplace. Just let that sink in… And then, let’s start changing the world of PR!
Mental Health is a concern at all levels of society and, within the PR agency world, a daily issue. In Canada, Strategic Objectives is a member of a non-profit organization called NABS (the National Advertising Benevolent Society) and our agency invests in programs that help make mental wellness a priority. ICCO President Nitin Mantri, has also made the topic of mental health a priority issue for 2020, as we all should.
The Opportunity to Establish True Brand Purpose
From a marketing perspective, perhaps one of the most relevant themes from the Summit was how PR professionals are helping clients establish true brand purpose. This is the holy grail! It‘s the halo effect of a brand’s existence and mission, well beyond a product or service.
Research shows that consumers and staff want companies to be advocates for social good – they’ve come to expect this. In fact, when Strategic Objectives collaborated with international research firm, Maru/Blue, earlier this year to ask Canadians their views on this subject, we found that 74% said they are more likely to support a brand that does charitable work in Canada, or gives back to communities in which they live and work. People want companies, just like people, to stand for something and to stand up and be counted. We believe that, too. Doing good is fundamentally good for business. We have proven this with many of our clients. Social responsibility and giving back engages employee teams, helps drive success and contributes to consumer brand preferences.
Melissa Waggener Zorkin co-founded agency network WE Communications and established its vision of helping brands find their purpose. At the ICCO Summit, Melissa shared key mantras to bring brand purpose to life:
- Lead with purpose and personal conviction: build brand loyalty on 360° respect.
- Prove global impact with local action: start with what matters to your community and build pillars of purpose from there.
- Show what you stand for: ignite passion by uniting all stakeholders and shouting your authentic mission from the rooftops.
- Respect your customers, environment and people: it all comes down to treating everyone with kindness and respect, no matter what your brand purpose. The old adage “do unto others…” holds true.
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